Answers to Your Questions About Covid Booster Shots and Omicron

Alarmed by the arrival of the new variant, health officials have called for everyone who is eligible to get a booster shot.

[ – 2021.12.15] The arrival of the fast-spreading Omicron variant has prompted health officials to urge booster shots for all as a way to strengthen the body’s defenses against a coronavirus infection. Here are answers to some common questions.

Do booster shots work against the Omicron variant?

While much is still unknown about Omicron, most experts agree that a booster shot is likely to give you additional protection.

The variant carries more than 50 genetic mutations, more than 30 of them on the virus’s spike, a protein on its surface that is the main target for current Covid vaccines. While these changes may help the virus sidestep some vaccine antibodies, it appears unlikely the variant will fully outsmart vaccines. It’s important to remember that your immune system has multiple lines of defense.

No vaccine or booster offers 100 percent protection, and some people may still become infected after vaccination. If that happens, your immune system will keep working to clear the virus, which is why vaccinated people are less likely to develop severe illness or be hospitalized.

Will there be booster shots targeted specifically for the Omicron variant?

While it’s possible a variant-specific booster could be developed, it’s too soon to know whether it will be needed. Preliminary reports suggest Omicron spreads quickly but causes less severe illness.

It would probably take three to four months to develop a variant-specific shot

The best strategy is to get the booster shot that is available now.

Do I need a booster shot if I’ve already had Covid?

Yes. Experts recommend booster shots even if you’ve had Covid. Early data from South Africa suggest that antibodies from prior infection aren’t enough to consistently ward off the Omicron variant. One study, which has not been peer reviewed, found that re-infection is more than twice as likely with Omicron as with other variants.

How long does it take a booster shot to start working?

While it takes your immune system about a week to 10 days to mount a strong response to the first series of shots, booster shots should start having an effect in just a few days.

Your immune system already has been trained by the first series of shots, so the booster triggers a much faster response. After the booster, your immune system continues to build even stronger protection over the next 10 to 14 days, so the sooner you get your shot, the better.

When should I get a booster shot?

The F.D.A. has authorized booster shots for people 16 or older who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines at least six months ago. People who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are eligible for boosters just two months after their shot.

People with weakened immune systems who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are also eligible for a third shot, at least four weeks after their second dose.

Do I need to have a medical condition to qualify?

No. The C.D.C. has changed its guidance and now says that all Americans 16 and older should get booster shots as soon as they are eligible.

How and when can I find a booster?

Health departments, pharmacies and doctors’ offices will dispense booster shots in much the same way as they administered the first and second doses. Call ahead to find out about scheduling, and bring your vaccine card.

What are the side effects of booster shots?

It appears that side effects after a booster shot are similar to those that occur after the two-dose series. Fatigue and pain at the injection site were the most commonly reported side effects, and overall, most symptoms were mild to moderate, the C.D.C. said.

Can I mix Covid vaccines?

Yes. The Food and Drug Administration recently authorized a mix-and-match booster shot strategy that now allows those eligible to pick a booster from one of three Covid-19 vaccines.

In a comparison of seven different vaccine brands, British researchers found that most of them prompted a strong immune response, with the mRNA shots from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech eliciting the strongest responses.

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